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2013 UVA Football Meet the Coaches: Defensive Coordinator Jon Tenuta

The 2012 Wahoo defense was one of the poorest in college football at making big plays. Will Virginia's new defensive coordinator, Jon Tenuta, instill the attack mentality necessary to change that?

Geoff Burke

The third part of our four part "Meet the Coaches" series focuses on new defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta.  (Here are the previous overviews of offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild and special teams coordinator Larry Lewis).

Considering the team's 4-8 record, the 2012 defense had far bigger problems than Jim Reid's defense, which was at times respectable, if inconsistent.  However, embarrassing blowout losses (giving up 56 points to Georgia Tech, for example) highlighted by way too many big plays allowed (this one, for example) meant that the "inconsistent" part was far too damaging to keep Reid around.

To replace Reid, Virginia hired Jon Tenuta, who played defensive back for the Hoos from 1979-1982.  Tenuta most recently spent two years at NC State, where he was the assistant head coach for defense and coached the linebackers.  Before that, he bounced all over college football, spending a total of 32 years coaching (including time at UVA as a graduate assistant).  Notably, Tenuta was the defensive coordinator for Georgia Tech from 2002-2007 and held the same position at Notre Dame in 2009.

Once again, the experience factor was an important consideration in bringing Tenuta to Charlottesville - all three of UVA's coordinators have over 30 years experience in coaching.  As Mike London explained after the hiring, "Jon has a great track record of improving defenses. He's spent many years coaching in the ACC and there's not much, if anything, he has not had to prepare for."

If "experience" is the first buzzword to consider when thinking about Tenuta, "aggressiveness" is the second.  Come think about it, "aggressiveness" should probably be the first one.  Simply put, Tenuta's defensive style is to attack, attack, attack.

And this Wahoo defense needs an attack mentality badly.  Last season, the Hoos recovered the fewest number of fumbles in the ACC (8), recorded the fewest interceptions (4), and were 10th in sacks (1.42 per game).  That total of 12 turnovers forced is particularly miserable; BC ranked 11th in the conference with 19, and just 3 teams in college football caused less.

As RTD's Mike Barber noted, Tenuta's aim is not just to send the house at the QB, but to confuse the offense and force mistakes.  He stresses that there's more to his scheme than sending blitzes and playing man defense.  But while it's true that his schemes are more complex than that, the fact remains: the guy ultimately likes to go after the QB.  Case in point:

In fact, current Redskins CB David Amerson estimated that over the course of the game, the NC State defense blitzed "at least 80 percent" of the time.

Tenuta brings an identity to a unit that desperately lacks one.  While he clearly has the personality and knowledge to transform the attitude of the defense, the question remains: does he have the personnel?

Some of the weapons are there: Demetrius Nicholson is developing into the type of lock-down cornerback that makes blitzing defenses work.  Eli Harold has the speed to beat his man and get to the QB.  However, there's also substantial uncertainty.  The losses of LaRoy Reynolds and Steve Greer mean that the all-important linebackers will lack experience.  The same goes with much of the defensive line.  (Check out Tiki's in-depth preview of the defense for a closer look.)

During the spring game, there were at least some signs that the defense was making big plays.  In fact, the Hoos notched 14 sacks and 3 safeties.  The bad news is that they happened to be taking on a fairly inept Virginia offense that day.  Fans are surely excited to see sacks and safeties against opponents not wearing orange and blue.

As if you didn't like the guy enough already, despite his travels around the conference and all over college football, he still bleeds orange and blue:

Here's Tenuta's full coaching history, from

1981-82 - Virginia
Graduate Assistant

1983 - Maryland
Graduate Assistant

1984-85 - Vanderbilt
Defensive Backs

1986 - Marshall
Defensive Backs

1987 - Marshall
Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs

1988 - Kansas State
Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line

1989 - SMU
Defensive Backs

1990 - SMU
Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers

1991-94 - SMU
Defensive Coordinator

1995 - Oklahoma
Defensive Backs

1996-99 - Ohio State
Defensive Backs

2000 - Ohio State
Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs

2001 - North Carolina
Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs

2002-07 - Georgia Tech
Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs

2008 - Notre Dame
Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers

2009 - Notre Dame
Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers

2010-11 - NC State

2012 - NC State
Assistant Head Coach for Defense/Linebackers

2013-present - Virginia
Associate Head Coach for Defense/Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers